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The Canadian wine industry ‘has lost a great friend’ with the passing of Lloyd Schmidt

Canadian wine

By Rick VanSickle

If you are enjoying a nice glass of Canadian Riesling right now, you just might owe a debt of a gratitude to Lloyd Schmidt.

An early pioneer of the wine industry in Canada, Schmidt, who would have been 79 years old on Feb. 28, passed away this morning, leaving a famous Canadian wine family and entire industry from B.C. to Ontario to mourn his sudden death.

Lloyd Schmidt played a critical role in vinifera (noble grapes) vines expanding into Canada, sourcing some of the best cuttings from nurseries from around the world, and importing and selling them in Canada. His sons, Brian and Allan, together run Vineland Estates winery in Niagara, but have deep roots to the Okanagan wine industry despite leaving for Ontario both at an early age.

“The industry has lost a great friend. But he lives on in his offspring,” former business partner Harry McWatters told Wines In Niagara today.

On April 5, 1979, McWatters and Schmidt purchased the Sumac Ridge Golf Course with plans to transform the fairway greens and clubhouse to vineyards and a winery. By 1981, Sumac Ridge produced its first vinifera wines — Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc.

McWatters and Schmidt only planted vinifera grapes and ventured to Washington State to source their first potted vines.

Photo courtesy of the Schmidt family.

The partnership at Sumac did not last, and after five years the two parted ways with McWatters becoming sole owner of Sumac and Schmidt turning to his passion of viticulture, importing vines from around the world. Most notably was his passion for the German Weis Clone (21b) from the Mosel, which was first to brought to Ontario in 1976 by Hermann Weis, founder of Vineland Estate and planted in what is now the St. Urban Vineyard. It is to this day the most common Riesling clone planted in Ontario.

McWatters met with Schmidt in Niagara last year to share stories about their friendship.

Even though the two parted ways with Sumac Ridge and after Schmidt moved to Niagara “our friendship and respect for each other lasted and continued to grow,” said McWatters. “He was a special man, a dear friend.”

McWatters said Schmidt leaves behind a “family legacy, a family that inherited his passion. He fought for the grower and lifted the bar.”

“Lloyd is one of the most knowledgeable viticulturalists in the industry I’ve ever met,” said long-time friend and a renowned viticultrualist himself, Roman Prydatkewycz (the man who planted and owned the Rosomel Vineyard on the Beamsville Bench before selling to Hidden Bench owner Harald Thiel).

Schmidt and Prydatkewycz, who works now as the viticulturist at Vineland Estate, were close friends for many years. On any given day you would find the two hunkered down at the Vineland tasting bar critiquing winemaker Brian Schmidt’s new releases or enjoying lunch and lively discussion at the estate’s restaurant.

“I can’t say enough about Lloyd,” Prydatkewycz said today. “It’s a great loss, he was a phenomenal man.”

Prydatkewycz said that Schmidt’s imported vines from Europe “were the best grafted vines anywhere.”

“He was like my brother, one of my closest friends.”

On the website page of Vineland Estate, under “The Visionary” section, Schmidt is described has having a special vision for grape vines for over six decades. “The future, whether it be a few weeks, a few months, or a few decades is where Lloyd is most comfortable and creative. Since he was a young scion himself, Lloyd has possessed the ability to see beyond the present, look past the biases of the day and forge new perspectives.

“Lloyd has always operated on the thin edge of being before his time.” He will chuckle and freely admit that there were times when he found himself on the wrong side of that edge but it never stopped him, and in many ways it just made him more focused and determined.”

In his own words, Schmidt said: “I’ve never been alone. Starting with my father and mother, then my beautiful wife and on to many others of position and influence, I’ve always had doors opened for me and I am externally grateful for that.”

Schmidt always saw the potential on “the other side of the door” and others saw the potential in him, the website says. At 16 years of age, his father (due to illness) gave him signing authority for all business on the family farm including payroll for the staff of 40. As Schmidt showed a keen eye for business, his father also insisted that he attend the Pitman Business College in Vancouver when he came of age. At that time Brian Roberts, President of Growers Wine in Victoria, a friend and a man of influence in the British Columbia wine industry opened a few doors for young Schmidt and became an important mentor for many years. Lloyd and Noreen’s second son and winemaker for Vineland Estates Winery was named for this man.

“Lloyd fully embraced the rigorous coaching from his father Frank, a visionary in his own right, as they worked together shoulder to shoulder. Frank Schmidt was a pioneer in the B.C. grape and wine industry and he infected his son with a strong work ethic and more importantly a belief in the long game and a progressive future not yet imagined.

“Lloyd understood that it was his imagination, intuition and creativity that were being called upon to help shape tomorrow. From establishing new innovative vineyards, to actively investing in emerging businesses, to immediately sensing the true wine-heart of individuals, and to viscerally connecting with enterprising, passionate colleagues, Lloyd has crafted a notable career in viticulture and winemaking that has literally changed the landscape of how we grow and make wine in North America.”

Many awards have been
bestowed on Lloyd Schmidt:

The Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) Award of Distinction, which is regarded as the highest form of peer recognition within the Canadian wine industry, was givento the Schmidt family last year. As part of the award, Lloyd Schmidt was singled out for playing a critical role in vinifera vines expanding in Canada, sourcing some of the best cuttings from nurseries from around the world, and importing and selling them in Canada. Lloyd Schmidt spoke on behalf of the family, saying, “I am very honoured to receive this award alongside my sons Allan and Brian. From the Okanagan Valley to Niagara, our family has enjoyed every moment of this incredible journey, which continues with my sons managing Vineland Estates Winery today. The move from labrusca to vinifera grapes in Canada has been instrumental to the growth of the Canadian wine industry during my lifetime, and I am proud to have been a part of that shift.”

In 2014 Lloyd was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Brock’s CCOVI VQA Promoters ceremony: Schmidt was recognized for his dedication to the advancement of the domestic wine industry in both British Columbia and Ontario. He worked as a viticulturist and consultant.

And at Cuvee 2016 the Tony Aspler Cuvée Award of Excellence was presented to viticulturist Lloyd Schmidt, for advancing viticulture in Ontario by accessing the best vinifera varietals from nurseries around the world and fighting bureaucracy to do it.